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Twinkl Educational Publishing produces resources, books and edtech to support each stage of a child's learning journey. We're big believers in the power of education to transform people's lives, and the world-grown from a two-person operation in our founders' Sheffield spare room, to a team five hundred strong. As Twinkl's Head of Culture, I believe that a really strong workplace culture has been fundamental to Twinkl's success so far, and that maintaining this essential as we grow.
Twinkl has always been a missional company, and our aim is to help those that teach. In order to continue innovating and going above and beyond for our customers, growth has been necessary - and lots of it! In fact, over the past eighteen months our team has grown by over 200 new starters, with offices in various locations across the UK and the globe. Our strong missions values have meant we can develop a company culture that means all our team, wherever they are geographically, are on board and fully invested in Twinkl's journey.
It's always been a priority for us that Twinkl is a comfortable, nurturing and inspiring place to work. But as we've grown, we've had to re-think our small, start-up structure and the beloved company traditions that have been a part of this. Times of growth require business leaders to keep critically assessing what they're doing; is it still working? If not, we owe it to our team, our business and ultimately ourselves to identify what we can do differently in order to keep growing and thriving. Here are my top tips for maintaining your company culture during a time of growth.
Cement your mission and get employees on board
If you don't feel that you've established your company culture just yet, set the wheels in motion now - it's never too late. Company culture can be built collaboratively - speak with your employees about what's most important to them. Which elements of work life gives them the greatest job satisfaction? You may be surprised about their answers, so keep an open mind. Staff from all areas of your business will have very different daily working experiences, and they may well prioritise aspects that you hadn't expected.
Most business leaders consider their company's mission to be an integral part of their business strategy. It creates a focal point, keeps employees engaged and makes sure that all staff are on the same page. Consider carefully what the key messaging around your business should be and communicate this effectively with your staff. Work with them to create a company culture that reflects this.
If you don't have a company motto or slogan, could you create one? This should sum up what you do and who you do it for. At Twinkl, ours is 'We help those who teach'. Short, simple and missional - this statement inspires our employees and informs everything we do in our day to day work. When the team are engaged with your mission, they will naturally want all their work to help your company to excel, and their work satisfaction levels will be higher.
Invest in your culture
Building and maintaining your company culture takes investment of both time and money, but pays dividends in both. When your employees believe in your mission as strongly as the business leaders do, they will take pride and ownership in their work. They will show up, deliver great work and spread the word about your brand - not to mention, creating a buzzing working environment that's a pleasure to be a part of.
Spend some time thinking about your company culture, and be prepared to budget for improvements around the office, team building exercises and social events. Build your culture into everything you o and start to create company traditions that improve day-to-day life in the office; recognise staff birthdays and work anniversaries, have fun staff parties each year and hold 'town hall' - style meetings where all team members can have their say about company affairs.
Empower your team
Lots of time and resources are wasted when leaders spend their working days micro-managing their staff. If you've employed a person, judging them to be talented enough to join your team, it's likely they're more than capable to crack on with their work without constant supervision. When team members feel trusted, they will know that their managers are leaders see their skills and potential, which is a great feeling.
That isn't to say that leaders should abandon their teams; regular evaluations allow team members to remain on-track and focused on what's important, and makes sure leaders are still 'in the loop'. Peer mentoring can also be really helpful for employees to feel heard, and supported to thrive. Ensure that reat work is recognised and celebrated both with the individual and the wider team.
With these measures in place leaders can take a step back, and let employees do what they're here to do. With clear objectives and performance indicators and regular check-ins, staff will be empowered to work autonomously - allowing leaders to focus on strategy and delivering what's next.
Hire to fit your culture
As growth takes place, your team may grow dramatically. New structures may need to be established. All business leaders will want to hire their team based on their qualifications and the value the bring to the team on paper. While this is certainly important, it's also beneficial to make sure you're hiring people who are a good fit for your team culture. When interviewing, make sure your candidate has a clear understanding of the culture in your business and ask them probing questions to really get to know them as a person. What makes them tick? Do you like them as a person?
Employ people who align closely with your values, rather than letting your company landscape be totally shaped by the team you take on - this way, you make sure that unhealthy practices don't become enshrined in the way you work. An important point is that 'hiring for company culture' shouldn't mean aiming for a homogeneous cross sectiono of employees. Diveristy is a very important aspect of building a strong company culture and HR should be consulted around hiring decisions to make sure that you don't fall into the trap of only employing those who look, act and think exactly the same as you.
If possible, introduce your candidate to members of the team they'll be joining before making a job offer. This applies particularly for staff you are hiring for leadership roles - it's important that team members across all levels are on board with your mission and can help to maintain the company culture you've worked so hard to achieve.
Communication is key
One of the exciting things about small start-up companies is the close-knit, almost familial feel that can form between employees. During times of growth, extra effort must be made by management to maintain this. It’s important to communicate openly with your staff about company progress and developments, and what is expected of them at work. These factors will likely change as your business grows, and the team can help to shape your strategy as this happens. It might be that old ways of working have become clunky and onerous, or that your tried and trusted team building initiatives aren’t as effective with a larger team.
If your employees give you constructive and honest feedback, be prepared to listen to them, discuss how to move forward and make appropriate changes if needed. All too often, business leaders are reluctant to take constructive criticism, and this can be really limiting for a company’s development. Team members should know that they’re safe to speak up, offer suggestions, question leadership and innovate with new ideas. Building this psychological safety is hugely important for us here at Twinkl, and our team members benefit from the ability to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns and know that they will be listened to.
It may seem like a big task to establish a strong culture in your company, especially if it’s a larger organisation. But with a bit of effort and some dedicated time and resources applied to the cause through a time of growth, your company culture can develop and grow too. At Twinkl, we are proud of our culture with an engagement score of over 85% (using the Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey). We know that the people make Twinkl, and in all our company developments our mission and culture are at the forefront of our minds. We aim for this to be the case as we continue to grow, innovate and develop to help those who teach.
Tim Elgar is Head of Culture at Twinkl, multi-award winning Sheffield-based educational resource publishers. Tim is passionate about using coaching approaches to develop effective leaders, and will be found enjoying the great outdoors with football, hiking and cycling in his spare time.